Vicky Oliver is the best-selling author of branding and career-development books including 301 Smart Answers to Tough Interview Questions, 301 Smart Answers to Tough Business Etiquette Questions, and her latest, The Millionaire’s Handbook: How to Look and Act Like a Millionaire Even If You’re Not. She’s a leading career adviser and image consultant in Manhattan, and Examiner was lucky enough to speak with her for LA Writers.
Interviewing in summer can be problematic, Oliver points out, because it’s hot and people sweat, so there’s a tendency to wear casual clothing. Too casual.
Writers — especially those in LA who will likely face 100-plus temps as they jostle down the 405 into Warner Bros. in mid-July — are the perfect audience for these Oliver-isms. Here are her universal summer interviewing tips:
Tone down your nails. Your nails don’t belong in the Museum of Modern Art (when it comes to getting most jobs). Everywhere these days we see women with four nails on one hand in one shade and one nail in another shade, often adorned with sparkles, fake diamonds, and other “nail jewels.” This is too creative for most office environments.
Cover yourself up. It’s tempting during warm weather for ladies to wear tiny tank tops, sheer blouses with lacy underthings, and hemlines that show a lot of leg. For guys, it’s muscle tees, unbuttoned shirts, and shorts. Cleavage, arm muscles, chest hair, upper thighs, or heaven forbid, midriffs are great for the tiki bar, but not for a job interview.
Look cool, not hot. If it’s 100 degrees outside and you’ll be walking to your job interview or riding public transportation, wear a shirt that you can quickly change out of before the meeting.
Save sandals for the beach. Wearing open-toed shoes or sandals gives a bad impression. You look too casual for an office, and could come across as seeming disrespectful toward the corporate culture. Also, showing naked toes just invites people to look at your feet and nails, from the color of your nail polish or lack of it to the trim of your nails.
Nix the tattoos and piercings. If you have tattoos that are easily concealed by a long-sleeve shirt or trousers, cover them up. If you have piercings on your nose, lips, or eyebrows, refrain from bedazzling your face for one hour. Unless you’re applying for a job as a nightclub bartender, these trendy adornments aren’t going to enhance your professional chances.
It’s hip to be square. Don’t try to make a summertime fashion statement with a Hawaiian shirt, indoor sunglasses, a backwards baseball cap, or bangles up to your elbows.
Given these wonderful tips, Examiner asked Oliver to train her expertise on those interviewing for writing gigs or positions here in LA this summer. Here’s some of that conversation:
Your tips are for summer interviewing, but have you found that folks on the west coast, particularly LA, have to apply such tips for most of the year?
Yes, anyone living in a temperate climate needs to pay special attention to dressing for a job interview. Even in companies with a casual dress code, an interview is a more formal situation. You wouldn’t wear the same outfit to a beach party as you’d wear to an interview.
What particular pitfalls, would you say, are Angelenos most vulnerable to or guilty of?
There may be a great distance between your job interview and the event you’re going to afterwards. Even if that’s the case, you need to customize your interview attire for the job at hand. Don’t stroll in wearing sandals or flip-flops. No beach dresses. Your bag needs to look professional, too. Pack two outfits if need be, and change once you arrive at your next event.
If it’s August, and someone shows up to a company sweating (which is only natural), should she ask to use the restroom before meeting with the interviewer? Or is a certain amount of sweat expected in such situations?
Yes and no. Most interviewers make up their minds about a candidate within 60 seconds. Basically, by the time you walk in, shake the interviewer’s hand, and walk down the hallway with her she’s already made up her mind about you!
Knowing that, it’s probably better not to show up sweating.The problem is: it makes you look nervous. On the flip side, if your interviewer is athletically inclined, she’s probably not going to hold a little sweat against you. If you are feeling sweaty when you arrive, I think it’s fine to quickly duck into the Ladies Room, but you can only do that if you arrive early.
If you tend to sweat, come early and also pack a small vial of baby powder and thin tissues that absorb shine.
Any specific tips for LA writers?
The best advice is to look up the company where you’re interviewing. Find its website. See if there are any pictures they have of their employees. Then show up looking 25 percent more polished than you’d need to be if you were already working there. This applies to writers as well as everyone else. When you show up looking a little more polished than you’d have to be on a daily basis, it shows respect for your interviewer. So for example, if everyone’s wearing T-shirts and khakis, come to your interview in a nice blouse and nice pants.
Why did you write about summer interviewing? Are the rules so much different in summer than in other seasons, or more important?
No, people make mistakes in their attire all the time, and in LA, it’s sort of seasonless (so these summer rules would usually apply).
Usually (the biggest mistake is) people haven’t done their homework, haven’t read enough about a company and its culture.
What’s the hardest question an interviewer could face, and how should it be answered?
Were you fired, or I see holes in your résumé, and can you explain? There’s no cookie cutter best answer. The best thing to do is figure out what the real reason was for your being let go, and figure out how to position that so it’s palatable to an employer…
For example, if it was a high-stress situation say ‘It wasn’t a good fit for me, but here’s what I learned.’ Focus on what you learned rather than personalities.
Finally, is there one more piece of advice for the creative people reading this, whether they’re in LA or somewhere else?
Sure. It’s not really about how good you are; it’s about how well you bond with the interviewer. Because there’s already been a process where they’ve culled down (to you). Assume you always have competition.
So people who’ve been chosen to be interviewed all have talent. So if you are in there at all, they know you have talent, and now it’s about who that person feels most comfortable with. It’s a little intangible why they like (one better than another). Part is your answers to questions. Part is your poise. But at this stage, it’s not talent that will win you the job — it’s your personality and how much they bond with you.
For more of Oliver’s words of wisdom, be sure to check out her books, available from Amazon.com. Happy job hunting.